Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #2:
The Measure Circle’s Amazon Echo/Alexa Round ups are short pieces about the Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service which may or may not be expanded later. For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.
New skills and our improved skills page
One of the most important elements for the Amazon Echo and especially for Alexa Voice Service to succeed is the third-party apps which they call Alexa Skills.
I’m going to look at building one myself. I do have some programming knowledge (I’ve taught Visual Basic), but I doubt that it’s that hard to do the actual creation.
That means that the real challenge for developers is going to be to give people a friction-free, enjoyable (or useful) experience.
So far, April Hamilton (of http://lovemyecho.com) shows real evidence of consideration of the user experience.
You can also currently see and compare two apps which do basically the same thing: Guess the Number and High Low Guessing Game. In both cases, you are guessing a number between 1 and 100. High Low gives you the option of either being the guesser or having Alexa guess…that’s the sort of thing that will make a difference to users.
Another important thing for developers? Error handling. What does Alexa do (in the skill) when you do something unexpected? I’ve gotten trapped in an app…and had another one drop me out because it misunderstood me.
While Amazon has told me you can have as many skills as you want (suggesting they are really stored in the Cloud), you might still want to choose which ones you enable. However, whether you enable it or not, you still have to go through them all in the Alexa app to find the ones you want.
For more information on the apps, see our page:
Home automation and Alexa
So many people associate the idea of Alexa with the computer on Star Trek. They even want to use “Computer” as the wake word (instead of “Alexa” or “Amazon”). I was thinking that would cause a lot of false positives when people said the word “computer”…but then I realized that, especially at home, a lot fewer people probably say it than used to say it. Now, if it was named “iPad” or “Galaxy”, that might be a problem. 😉
The Enterprise’s computer didn’t just answer questions…it controlled the operations of the ship. That’s a good thing, too. I’ve often pointed out to people that on the original series, they were way ahead of us in medicine (although we are catching up) with the tricorder, far ahead of us in transportation with warp drive and the transporter…but considerably behind us on computers (unless, you know, they are super intelligent menaces). When Captain Kirk asks the computer for someone’s identification number, you can actually hear the relays closing! It has to say, “Working…” and then it takes several seconds. But I digress… 😉
You can use the Echo to control your house…but you have to first have the home automation.
I know someone who has a fully automated, Jetsons-style house. I’ve been getting some advice.
I didn’t have any home automation yet, so I took that person’s (who wants to remain anonymous) suggestion and got
for about $45 (you could spend thousands of dollars on home automation…even to the point of a
which will let you check on how many eggs you have left while you are on the bus…and whether they are good or not.
What this set does is give you a controller, and two bulbs.
There is no special wiring for the bulb…you just screw it in like you would any other lightbulb.
The controller goes in a regular power outlet, like plugging in a lamp.
The Wink app was very clear. Set up was easy.
The only really weird thing is that the Wink app wasn’t available for the
Now, I know, I’m in the tiny minority in even having a Fire Phone…but you would think that when Amazon promotes the Wink capability of the Echo vigorously that it would work with other Amazon hardware. 😉
I even checked with Wink: you can’t set it up any other way except with an app for iPhones and Android.
Fortunately, Amazon (contrary to what you hear sometimes) is not a closed system, and lets you install apps from “outside sources” on the Fire Phone. I got the Wink app from http://www.1mobile.com/ and was good to go.
I have to say, it is cool to be able to say, “Alexa, turn off the family room” or “Alexa, turn on the library light” and have it just happen.
It’s not always that practical, but it certainly has helped at times. For example, when I’ve got two dogs leashed up and am heading out the door, it’s great to be able to just turn the light off verbally.
If you do want to try out automation, this is a relatively inexpensive way to start. It appears to me that I can’t dim the light through the Echo, but it’s still worthwhile.
Alexa gaining knowledge…and losing it
I’m very happy to report that one of the two hashtags I created for Alexa
has actually had an impact!
Amazon stated to both April F. Hamilton (see above) that our use of #TeachAlexa got them to add things to Alexa. For me it was this:
“Alexa, it’s a bird, it’s a plane…”
Alexa: “It’s Superman.”
For April Hamilton it was
“Alexa, cake or death?”
I’ve actually heard more than one response now. That’s an Eddie Izzard routine, by the way.
Feel free to use it and to encourage other people. They should include @AmazonEcho, so the development team sees it.
I noted quite some time back (and with some surprise) that when I asked Alexa if Bigfoot is real, I got a matter of fact response that, “Yes, Bigfoot is real.”
The Echo sidesteps some questions (like religious ones), and I think that’s understandable.
Now, I’m not saying this is a religious question, but it could be controversial. 😉
Interestingly, Alexa now doesn’t answer the Bigfoot question.
I wonder if somebody had, um, second thoughts about that and made a change.
Gee, I guess that might be an “Echoverup”. 😉
Echophile’s problem #1: diving for the remote to mute the TV before your Echo responds to an Echo commercial
Have questions, comments, or stories about the Echo/Alexa for me or my readers? Feel free to comment on this post.
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